“Negroes Fighting In the Ranks of the Rebels”

Here is another example of a newspaper clipping on the subject of black Confederates with the compliments of Vicki Betts.  [See here and here ] This is just the kind of evidence that certain parties love to tout as indisputable proof of the existence of black Confederate soldiers.  I have to say that if I came at this issue with no prior background knowledge of Confederate policy on this issue and lacked the ability to ask careful questions of my sources I might be drawn in as well.

NASHVILLE DAILY UNION, February 19, 1863, p. 4, c. 1

Negroes Fighting in the Ranks of
the Rebels.

The following letter containing facts of much interest to the public, is printed by the author’s permission in the Washington Republican of yesterday:”Washington, D. C. Feb. 2, 1863.

“Hon. William Whiting, Solicitor of the War Department”
“Dear Sir:  While at Yorktown, soon after its evacuation by the rebels, I was informed that during the siege the guns in those fortifications were manned and served by negroes, who were recognized as soldiers in the rebel army.

“A few days subsequently at West Point, the day after the fight at that place, I was informed by some of our officers and men engaged in that fight that during the engagement our forces encountered a full company of negroes, armed and equipped, serving in the rebel army; that said negro soldiers drove a portion of our forces into a swamp and deliberately cut the throats of our officers and men, and that our troops caught one of these negroes with a commission in his pocket for a lieutenancy in the rebel army signed by Jeff. Davis.

“At Mechanicsville a full regiment of blacks was seen under drill, in full view of our lines, for several days.

“The above facts are well known and often spoken of.  All this, if true, shows conclusively that there does not seem to be any nice question with Davis as to the equality of blacks, such at least as is now raised in Congress by his friends on the same question.

“Yours truly,
“Thos. W. Beardslee.”

We have evidence also that negroes are enlisted in the rebel army, and paid as white soldiers are, and the man who gives this evidence is a captain in the rebel army.  Read the following advertisement from the Georgia Constitutionalist:

$30 Reward.

Deserted from Company A, 29th Georgia Regiment, stationed at Dawton Battery, on Savannah River, John Rose, 22 years of age, about 5 feet 7 inches in height, complexion a brown black.  He is a free negro and an excellent drummer.  Was enlisted October 16th, 1861, and deserted November 13th, 1862.  He is at present concealed in Savannah.

W. H. Billapp,
Captain Commanding Dawton Battery.

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Acquisitions, 02/11

As excited as I am about moving to Boston I am dreading having to pack up my library.  I am seriously considering gutting a sizable chunk of it.  It will be painful, but necessary.  Here is a video I did a few years back on my Civil War library.  Anyway, I haven’t bought too many books over the past months.  Just about everything listed below was mailed to me by the publisher directly.

Judkin Browning, Shifting Loyalties: The Union Occupation of Eastern North Carolina(University of North Carolina Press, 2011).

Louis Masur, The Civil War: A Concise History(Oxford University Press, 2011).

Sean A. Scott, A Visitation of God: Northern Civilians Interpret the Civil War(Oxford University Press, 2011).

Jane Schultz, ed., This Birth Place of Souls: The Civil War Nursing Diary of Harriet Eaton(Oxford University Press, 2011).

David Silkenat, Moments of Despair: Suicide, Divorce, and Debt in Civil War Era North Carolina(University of North Carolina Press, 2011).

Peter H. Wood, Near Andersonville: Winslow Homer’s Civil War (Nathan I Huggins Lectures)(Harvard University Press, 2010).

Susannah J. Ural ed., Civil War Citizens(New York University Press, 2010).

Readers Digest, Untold Secrets of the Civil War[Reviewing for Civil War History]

Standing Up For Teachers

Update: Chris Wehner has responded to my post in the comments section below. He takes issue with just about every point I made, but I stand by what I’ve written. What troubles me most about Wehner’s post is the claim that the work of Howard Zinn and the Social Justice movement somehow explains what is going on in Wisconsin. Wehner makes no attempt to address this claim with any substantive evidence. On the lighter side, many of you will be interested in his new Civil War blog.

I haven’t said anything about the ongoing teachers strike in Wisconsin, in large part, because I am not a member of a union and the reasons for the strike have little to do with the focus of this blog.  On the other hand, I make it a point to highlight the good work that my colleagues are doing in history classrooms across the country.  We have enough bad press out there.  It is with this in mind that I read Chris Wehner’s disgraceful editorial in which he summarily dismisses every last teacher taking part in this strike with one swift back of the hand.

Before proceeding let me state that I am not suggesting that one has to agree with the goals of the protest or even acknowledge the rights of labor and collective bargaining.  My guess is that if I knew everything going on behind the scenes there are aspects of the protest that I would disagree with as well.  All in all, this seems to be as much about politics as it does about managing a budget.  There is blame on both sides.

The new civility on display in Madison, Wisconsin has given me as a teacher pause. As a teacher I have to be held to the utmost level of integrity, do I not? I spend 8 hours a day with other people’s children; often more time than the parents do. I encourage students to work hard, be honest, and disciplined. As a history teacher I point to the nature of our democracy where majority rules, and that elections are to be taken serious as they indeed, as our esteemed President noted, “have consequences.” Yet in Wisconsin teachers have decided to use what is a teachable moment, and demonstrate that lying, banter, and at times, incivility should be used when one does not get what one wants…. You want to protest, do it after school or on the weekends. Want to organize peacefully, fine.

Apart from one quote Wehner makes absolutely no attempt to explain this rampant “lying” and “incivility” which supposedly characterizes the protesters.  On what grounds does Wehner condemn every single teacher who has picked up a sign or spent the evening in the capitol building?  He leaves absolutely no room for the possibility that many of these folks are honest and hardworking people, who are doing something that they truly believe is worth fighting for – for themselves and even for their schools and students.  Again, I am not suggesting that you must agree with their goals, but why must they all be condemned?  Even more outrageous is the suggestion that these teachers should conduct their protests after school hours and on weekends.  Is there anything in the history of labors’ struggle that would suggest that an after hours/weekend walkout ever worked?  What version of U.S. history is Wehner teaching?  Finally, since when did an election negate the right of citizens to engage in peaceful protest?  Isn’t this part of the “nature of democracy”?

According to Wehner, however, the real source of the trouble behind this protest is the boogeyman of social justice.

But none of this should be surprising when we look at how educators are taught today and how they are encouraged to be exemplars of Social Justice and to teach for Social Change.  Today’s teacher unions and educators in America, in public schools, are failing their students and for multiple reasons; some of which have nothing to do with the teachers. But some aspects of this failure have to do with bad teachers and ones that have agendas. Take the literature that is being promoted by the late Howard Zinn and other radicals. In some Universities and Colleges we are producing activists and not educators, and this explains what is happening in Wisconsin. Those who willing[ly] lied, took phony sick notes from unscrupulous doctors, and railed against the democratic system, are sending students the wrong message and setting the wrong example.

We’ve heard it all before from Wehner and others.  The late Howard Zinn and radicals in higher education are corrupting our young teachers and turning them into social radicals “and this explains what is happening in Wisconsin.”  This is as outrageous and irresponsible a claim that I can imagine in this context.  Once again, Wehner provides next to nothing to support his claim apart from one quote and references to emails that he has received from various organizations that are engaged in this enterprise.

Even if you believe that these teachers are “setting the wrong example” why do we have to bring in the issue of Social Justice?  Are we really to believe that the majority of k-12 teachers from every subject area are motivated by the Social Justice agenda?  Are we also to assume that the other civic employees, who have joined the teachers in Wisconsin and elsewhere are also driven by this as well.  Wehner turns individuals into robots without any thought on the matter.  He takes a reasonable disagreement over whether these people have the right to strike and be away from their classrooms and dismisses them without any serious attempt to understand their motivation.

It goes without saying that our education system has some serious problems, some of them are the result of the influence of unions and poor teaching.  However, for every bad apple in our school districts I can point to many more, who are honest, hard working, and struggling to help their students with very little financial support.  What ultimately troubles me about Wehner’s editorial, as well as other things he has written on his blog about the teaching profession, is that he seems to be completely unaware of this.  He would have us believe that teachers are engaged in a plot to turn our students into revolutionaries and overthrow everything that is sacred about America.  It’s as if teachers are to be feared.

I don’t know how anyone in this profession can operate with this mindset.

“What Shall Be Done With Them?”

On Friday I posted a couple of newspaper notices on the subject of black Confederates from Vicki Betts.  Here is one more from a Memphis newspaper for your consideration.

MEMPHIS DAILY APPEAL [MEMPHIS, TN], May 14, 1861, p. 3, c. 2

Our Free Colored Men–What Shall Be Done With Them?–Editors Appeal:  The proposition of the committee of safety, to enlist companies of our free colored men, is not relished by our citizens generally; and the question comes up, “what must be done with them?”  Let me suggest to that committee that they confer with Major-General Pillow as to the policy of placing four or five of our free negroes in each company from Memphis, for cooking, washing, etc.  That is their post, one of inferiority, not of citizen soldiers.  They understand that sort of work better than any boys who are called to do battle.  Let them be made useful in that way.

Common Sense.

Civil War Memory Needs a New Tagline

UNC Press (2009)

One of my readers reminded me the other day that I am soon going to need a new tagline for Civil War Memory.  He suggested that I make it a contest, which I think is a great idea.  As you know the latter part of, “Reflections of a Civil War Historian and High School History Teacher,” will cease to apply (at least temporarily) come this summer.  So, what should it be?  The contest will be open through next Friday.  My only request is that contestants must be members of the Civil War Memory Facebook Page.  The winner will receive a copy of Aaron Sheehan Dean’s, Why Confederates Fought: Family and Nation in Civil War Virginia (University of North Carolina Press, 2009).  Feel free to be as creative as you like.

Thanks for your help.